DLC: I think that’s really key: there is space. Creating a sense of spaciousness, in not only how we talk and think about ourselves, but also in how we express that and share it visually, in films and beyond. This feels like a good moment to invite two other guests on stage. And so, if you will, join me in welcoming J Wortham, cultural critic and Executive Producer of Queer Futures, as well as activist and author, Raquel Willis.
DLC [to Raquel and J]: As we keep talking about space and authorship—really, agency—I want to anchor this in a recognition that each of these films model the fact that liberation is actually a daily practice. It’s not just an end goal for us to work towards. It’s something that we commit to in every aspect in our lives. And I want to think about y’all’s work as writers. Could you talk about how you navigate that work when it comes to creating that space for liberation?
Raquel Willis: I want to just name the bravery it takes to imagine organizing in a different way. I think that we often have a very limited idea of what resistance looks like. And yes, we out on the streets honey, because our organizers on the streets need your support, but organizing can’t just be there, it has to be in every realm of our lives. And so I appreciate the space and the work that y’all are doing [as filmmakers] because it is literally organizing. So I wanted to name that first.
I think the other part, about liberation, is that it’s not just the labor that is important, it is also the rest [required] to create a beautiful thing. For me, it’s been important to embrace grace, and space, and rest, and surrendering in a way, to my process and to my gifts. ‘Cause I think for a long time it was like if it’s not hard, if it’s not grueling, if it doesn’t hurt in a way, is it real and is it necessary? And yeah, it is very necessary.
J Wortham: I mean, I have to go after that? [laughs]
I just want to say the films look so good. I’m so proud of you all and it’s just been such a gift to watch [the work] evolve over the last year or so. So just congratulations on that.
To this question of liberation, I’ve been thinking so much more about collaboration. We live in New York City, or many of us do, and I think there’s a culture of just nonstop work over all. We’re encouraged to live at the pace of—I’ll say the world, but I don’t think it’s the world, I think it’s… capitalism. It’s also news media and it’s also everything being on-demand all the time and the expectation of being available all the time. And the thing I love about these films is that they’re each showing all these different ways in which we get to choose. And I’m saying just queer people, but I feel like not queer people can also take notes and learn from this.
We get to decide what the tenor and the quality and the caliber of our lives look like. Whether it’s deciding what family’s going to look like, how we’re going to show up in these traditional legacy spaces that need to evolve with us too. And how do we do that and walk hand-in-hand and not leave anybody behind? How we think about the environment, how we think about our bodies, and how we also find ways to be in the environment that suit our bodies rather than the world tell us how either of us are supposed to function; and also the incredible interplay of thinking about what it means to need and want treatment and find our freedom after these incredibly traumatic experiences, and talk about the ways in which we use language and language uses us—all of that to me is about liberation.
I know that’s not really answering the question about my work, but I think what I’m trying to say is, this is what I’m learning about liberation through these films and what they’re saying about how we show up and take that for ourselves.
DLC: I think speaks to this notion of utility. We don’t have to pigeonhole art or culture into being “useful,” or whatever that means in a hyperproductive, capitalist society. The different ways in which we navigate the world are complementary.
Raquel, I want to shift over to the work that you do in the legal and activism realm when it comes to thinking about how we get free and stay free. How do you think culture fits into that equation, or complements it?
RW: I think culture is often the first site that many of us come into contact with to understand ourselves, to understand each other. Especially here in the States, most people don’t know, or say they don’t know, trans and non-binary folks. So oftentimes, we’re at the whim of what’s happening in culture, whether it’s hateful rhetoric from a politician or a Grand Wizard, as homegirl said. (I don’t know if y’all saw that, but she called DeSantis “DeSatan.”) [laughter]
But thinking about that rhetoric, right, oftentimes that’s the only thing people are consuming. And so that’s why it’s important for us to have folks who are creating.
Going back to the first question, when we think about liberation as this destination far off in the future—yes, it can be useful in a way to understand liberation as something that’s not going to happen in our lifetime, but it also can be very disheartening. So if we only look at liberation as something in the future, we miss opportunities in our day-to-day life. [To Brit, Noah, Twiggy, and Sasha] I think all of your films speak to the need to build liberation into the present; to build it into feeding our people, into creating shelter for our people; to build it into creating sites of connection, sites of embodiment, sites of deeper and stronger self-expression.